“God’s Rules For Christian Conduct” (I Peter 3:8-12 sermon)

When George Washington was a little boy, he copied out a document with the title: “110 Rules of Civility,” which was a common school assignment in his day. Because we have Washington’s copy in his own hand, it has become well-known — AND he did seem to try to live by it as well. It has some very practical guidelines for civil behavior, among them:

— Rule #1: Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

— Rule #4: In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet.

— Rule #38: In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein. 

— Rule #9: Spit not in the fire … nor set your feet upon the fire — especially if there be meat before it (!) 

These are just some good, practical, things that will help you be considerate of others, and get along with other people in society – we would probably benefit from observing some of these rules today! 

And that’s similar to what we find here in our passage today in I Peter 3:8-12. With these words, Peter concludes this whole section we’ve been studying on Christian living. In it he has talked about how we should be a good witness by the way we live towards the government, at work, in our home with our own family, etc., and now he ends this section with a general admonition for ALL of us as God’s people, on the way we should ALL live as a witness to ALL people, all of the time; especially in the church, but also outside as well:

“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 

For, ‘The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”


I.  The Priority of Good Relationships:

God says there are some important attitudes He wants us to have towards each other in the church, and He lists 5-6 things here:

— “harmonious”  (Homo-phrones = “one” “phren” — the diaphragm, or area around the heart.) It literally means, one breath; one heart. It’s a picture of how we are to work together and serve together in the church.  

I like the word “harmony.” Harmony is so important in the choir, isn’t it? Now, that doesn’t mean they all sing the same thing all the time, does it? There are different gifts, different parts; different lines. But they all come together to sing in “harmony”, under the direction of the same conductor. And what a great conductor we have in Bro. Kyle, amen?! He gets SO much out of our choir, and it is so glorifying to God when everyone is singing their part together, unified under his direction. 

God says THAT IS THE WAY THE WHOLE CHURCH IS TO BE! “Be harmonious.” Not that we all have the same gifts, or are all doing exactly the same things — but like the choir, we are all working together, for the same ultimate goals (“to worship God, and serve Him by reaching and teaching and caring for people”) under the leadership of the same Great Conductor — our God and King! The choir is a great picture of what the whole CHURCH should be: “harmonious”!  Working together for the same goals, under the same leadership. 

— “sympathetic”  (“sum-pathos” = “feeling together.”)  We are to “feel together” with those who are hurting.   In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: “second hand cares, like second hand clothes, come easily off and on.” In other words, you can “put on” an act as though you care for someone, but when it is not really your personal concern, it is easy, once you’re away from the person who is suffering, to “put off” that concern just as easily as you put it on. God says NO; members of our church are our FAMILY; be “sym-pathetic” toward them; “feel together” with them in what they are going through.

— “brotherly” this is the word “philadelphia,” or “brotherly love.” He’s saying this church is indeed our FAMILY. Show “brotherly love” to everyone in it. Paul said in I Timothy 5, to treat the older men as fathers; the older women as mothers; the younger men as brothers; the younger women as sisters, in all purity. In other words, treat church members as FAMILY.  The old hit song said, “We are fam-i-ly!” — that ought to be the banner that hangs over every church. We are FAMILY! So we should treat each other as family, with understanding and brotherly love. 

— “kind-hearted” (eu-splanchnoi) This Bible word literally means, “good,” “guts” — because to the Hebrews the inward parts were where your “feelings” were. So he is encouraging us here to have “good feelings” towards others in the church; one translation says be “tender hearted” toward them. Don’t have hard feelings towards your brothers & sisters; be tender-hearted; have GOOD feelings towards them. 

— “humble in spirit”. Humility is one of THE most important character qualities of the Christian life. You can’t even be saved unless you humble yourself, admit that you are a sinner, and need a Savior in Jesus. And that same spirit of humility is vital all through the Christian life: you need to be humble enough to admit that you need God’s help every day, so you pray. And in the church, you need to be humble, and realize that not everything is about YOU: what songs YOU like, or how YOU like the temperature, or what YOU think the church should do. Like Philippians 2 says “let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” If everyone would really have that attitude, there would be no problems in any church — but it takes real humility from all of us for that to happen. 

— “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead”.  This was especially applicable to Christians in Peter’s day, as they were experiencing some persecution for their faith. There were a lot of people saying false and insulting things against them. Peter said, do NOT insult them back. “Give a blessing instead.” And of course sometimes even a person IN the church may say or do something offensive to us too. It’s sad, but it happens. When it does, God says DO NOT treat them the way they treated you. If they did wrong, it doesn’t mean YOU should do wrong too! You do what’s right. You give a blessing instead. 

Now these things are not an “exhaustive” list of every single attitude we are to have. What he’s saying is: keep good relationships, both inside and outside of the church. This is something very important that we MUST understand about the Christian life (It is one of the things we are learning in Masterlife): Christianity is NOT just all about your “vertical” relationship between you and God. It is also very much about your “horizontal” relationships with other people in this world: people who are lost; and other people in the church. You will never be the Christian person God wants you to be until you treat other people the way He commands you to. It is SO important — both for YOU personally, and also for the peace and harmony of God’s church. 

Now let me say that I believe it is such Providential timing for us to come to this scripture right now as a church. NOT because we are not harmonious and so on, because we ARE. But here’s the thing: God is at work in our church. Many people are being revived in their walk with God; starting a daily quiet time for the first time, or starting one again; rededicating our lives, and getting serious about being holy, and praying for the lost. We are about to get a new youth minister; about to break ground on our new building.  There is so much good going on; the devil does NOT want to see all these things happening. So what he will do, is he will try to “sidetrack” us with quarrels, and dissensions, and divisions — whatever he can do to try to “drive a wedge” between us — and he will use the littlest things to do it, if we will let him. 

One of my very favorite books is C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. It is a fictitious book about a senior demon (Screwtape) who is writing to his “demon apprentice” nephew Wormwood, and he is giving him advice about how to tempt and hinder the humans to whom they are assigned. The book is written with a lot of humor, and it is short, and fun to read, but it is also very insightful. In one of the “letters” Screwtape writes to Wormwood and he is advising him about how to cause trouble in a person’s household:

“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost invariably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she KNOWS how much he dislikes it, and does it to annoy — if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that HE has tones and looks which similarly annoy her … this is easily managed.

In civilized life, domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are no far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up, you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: ‘I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.’ Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending — and yet having a grievance when offense is  taken.” (pp. 13-14)

Now, Lewis was writing there about family life — but it is just the same with CHURCH family life, isn’t it? We will be tempted by the enemy to be annoyed by other people in the church: by their words, by what we THINK are their meaningful looks, or their implications — or WHATEVER the enemy can use to try to drive a wedge between us. You’ll be tempted to speak harshly in return to them, or talk to others about them, or “get back” at them in some way — but DO NOT DO IT! Realize what Satan is doing and determine that you WILL NOT be used by him in that way. Paul said “We are not ignorant of his schemes.” (II Cor. 2:11) We KNOW what he is trying to do;  DON’T fall for it!  

It’s like the star football player who’s known to have a temper, and so some backup player from the other team comes in and tries to provoke him into taking a swing at him to get him thrown out of the game. A wise coach will tell him: DON’T fall for that. DON’T take the bait. 

And God’s basically telling US that here too. That’s why He gives us this list of things, and says, focus on these things in the church. And WHO is to do this? “ALL of you”!  ALL of you!  Another one of Satan’s “schemes” is to get us to think that WE are a “special exception” to what God commands. But NONE of us are a “special exception.” We ALL need to obey God’s word, and exercise these things, to keep the unity of our church, and to protect the witness of our church in our community.  

A wise person once said that everyone in the church carries around two buckets: a “bucket of gas” in one hand, and a “bucket of water” in the other. Whenever there is some “spark” of controversy, or hurt, or dissension, Satan is trying to start something. When you see that, you have a choice as to which “bucket” you will use: are you going to use your “bucket of gasoline” to make it blow up even bigger? Or will you use your bucket of water to put it out?  God’s saying here that we all need to use our “bucket of water”. Whenever you see or hear something that could be damaging to the fellowship of our church; PUT IT OUT!  “Be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.”



II.  The Imperative of Holiness:

“‘The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”

There are a couple of significant things about this that we need to be aware of:

— First of all, you may see that verses 10-12 are in quotes or all capital letters in your Bible. This is because this is a quote from the Old Testament, Psalm 34. 

— Psalm 34 speaks about the persecution and oppression of God’s people — JUST like Peter is writing to God’s people about here. Peter is telling the persecuted Christians: you need to live in your suffering just like Psalm 34 says: “keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit … turn away from evil and do good …”. 

AND I want you to notice a very important word that is repeated here: “MUST … MUST … MUST”. He uses that word three times. All the translations don’t necessarily show it, but these words in Psalm 34 are in the IMPERATIVE tense: in other words He’s saying you MUST do these things:

— he says you “MUST keep your tongue from evil, and (your) lips from speaking deceit.”

— he says you “MUST turn away from evil and do good.”

— and you MUST “seek peace and pursue it.”

He is talking here about personal holiness. Don’t say things that you shouldn’t say. He says there are some sins you are committing in your life that you need to turn away from. And He says you must pursue the kind of life that God has commanded for you. He is saying, you “MUST” be committed to holiness.

Greg Frizzell talked about this in his first session last Sunday, on “Going Deeper With God” in prayer. He said if you really want to get closer to God, there are 3 things you have to do: 

1) you have to let His words abide in you: really get into God’s word, more than just one verse a day in a quick devotional.

2) you have to talk to God daily — and include more than just a “shopping list” of prayer requests.

3) and then thirdly, he said you have to “totally surrender” to God every day, and let Him search 5 areas of your life: your THOUGHTS; your ATTITUDES; your WORDS; your RELATIONSHIPS; and your DEEDS.

Greg made it clear: you CANNOT go “deeper with God” if you don’t get serious about these things in your life. And that is just what GOD is emphasizing here in His word. He says you “MUST” control your tongue; you “MUST” turn away from evil. It is no accident that God uses “must” here 3 times. You MUST do these things. You cannot say you are serious about following Christ and really experiencing His blessings and His presence in your life if you are not serious about becoming more holy. 

Greg & I were talking about this on the way to the airport last Monday: that repentance and holiness have basically been omitted from the Christian vocabulary for the last generation or so. If someone wanted to be saved, they’ve been told: “just pray this prayer.” But there’s been no mention of their sin, or Jesus dying on the cross for their sins, or the need to repent of sins and following Jesus to truly be saved. And even among Christians in our  churches, it’s just all about being “positive and encouraging” but there’s no focus on repentance from sin and living holy lives.

But God says here, if you want My blessing you “MUST” take holiness seriously:

— if you really want to be saved, you must realize that you have sinned against holy God. God does NOT take sin lightly. He takes sin so seriously that His sent His own Son to die on the cross to pay for your sins. If you want to be saved, you MUST be willing to turn AWAY from your sins (“turn away from evil and do good” as :11 says) and really follow Jesus. 

— and then if you really DO become a Christian, your whole life will be one which takes sin seriously. You will want to get up every day to pray to God, and read His word, and hear what He has to tell you about what you need to change in your life that day; and you will continually be “turning away from evil and doing good.”

And Peter says, Listen folks: this is not “optional.” He says you MUST do this: “MUST … MUST … MUST.” If you want to be saved; if you want to be in right standing with God, you MUST take sin seriously. You MUST be (like the Romanians call Christians) a “repenter.” You MUST be committed to holiness in your life. It is an imperative. 



And “who says” we must do this? Who says this is an “imperative”?

Someone might look at George Washington’s “rules of civility” and say “Who says I can’t sing and strum my fingers while other people are in the room?” Some of those things are just “common sense,” but I guess you could argue with some of them; WHO SAYS you have to live that way? But NOT with what we read here. Peter  closes this section saying:

“For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”

WHY should we live the way Peter says here? Because GOD says so! This is HIS word. He says God will be watching to see if you will do these things, and He says He will hear your prayers if you do: “His ears attend to their prayer”!  You want to have answered prayers? Then do what God says here. It doesn’t guarantee that every prayer you pray will be answered — but it pretty much guarantees your prayers WON’T be answered if you DON’T!  He says “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  That’s an awesome and fearful thought: that the God who spoke a billion galaxies into being with a word, would turn His face against you. It ought to give us chills at the thought of disobeying Him.

But for the one who knows Him, it is not just fear that motivates us. It is that we love Him, and want to honor Him with our life, because of what He has done for us. With love for Him as our motivation, we should get up every day and ask Him to help us through His Holy Spirit to keep His “rules for Christian conduct”: to do everything we can to keep good relationships in His church, and to pursue a holy life that will really honor Him.  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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